Senate votes to make it harder to ship fentanyl to U.S. by mail -- 

"By closing the loophole in our mail screening and holding the Postal Service to the same standard as private carriers, we can give law enforcement the tools to keep these dangerous synthetic drugs out of our communities." Senator Rob Portman

Senate Joins House in Passing Bill to Limit Postal Service Role in Opioid Crisis --  

"The legislation would bring requirements currently enforced on private shipping companies to the Postal Service by 2021, when the mailing agency would transmit the advanced electronic data, or AED, to Customs and Border Protection on 100 percent of international packages. USPS, which currently only collects the data on 40 percent of inbound international packages, would have to provide the information on 70 percent of packages by the end of this year. "

Last November we reported on Opioids in the United States Postal Service and the danger to mailroom workers and anyone who opens mail in your organization.

Legislators have been working for over a year to fill loopholes and try to stop the inundation of opioids in the mail. With the passage of this latest legislation, we are a step closer to ensuring greater mail safety as well as helping those who are vulnerable to opioid addiction.

What is this Legislation?

This legislation is a conglomeration of about 70 bills that address differing aspects of the United States opioid crisis -- everything from providing more access to medical-assisted treatment to measures preventing “doctor-shopping” in order to obtain opioid prescriptions.

Why is it Important to Mail Security?

The most relevant item for mail security is the effort to reduce the amount of opioids coming into the United States from foreign countries through the U.S. Mail. Currently because no sender identification data is required on incoming USPS packages as it is from other commercial carriers, the USPS is the unfortunate delivery method of choice for illegal drug shipments.

USA Today reports "Because of the volume of mail flowing into the country, the Customs and Border Protection cannot manually scan these packages and stop illicit goods from crossing our borders.

Why Does this Matter?

According to GovExec, “Private carriers shipped just 50 million international packages in 2016, however, compared to 600 million shipped via the Postal Service.” The volume of United States Postal Service international package shipping is staggering compared to private shippers. So we are talking about the majority of international shipping for this mail safety effort.

What Changes Would Happen with USPS International Mail?

The USPS will be required to collect Advanced Electronic Data (AED) including:

  • Who the package is coming from
  • Where the package is coming from
  • Who the package is going to
  • Where the package is going to
  • What is in the package

This information will help law enforcement better target possible illegal items to search. Recently, Customs and Boarder Patrol (CBP ) has characterized the challenge of identifying possible opioids in the mail as searching for a “needle in a pile of needles in a needle factory.”

When Can We Expect changes?

If signed into law, the USPS would need to provide this data for 70 percent of packages by the end of 2018.The legislation would require the USPS to provide advanced electronic data on all packages in 2021.

Currently, the USPS provides data on less than half of incoming international packages.

Do We Have the Right Equipment for Protection?

First and foremost, protect your employees.

At a minimum, provide the protective equipment needed including:

(1) Nitrile Gloves

(2) Safety Goggle Glasses

We suggest the following the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) recommendations from the CDC website for emergency workers using perhaps the "Minimal" or "Moderate" categories.

Their categories are as follows:

Minimal: "Response to a situation where it is suspected that fentanyl may be present but no fentanyl products are visible."

Moderate:"Response to a situation where small amounts of fentanyl products are or appear visible."

For more information visit CDC.gov

Do We Have the Right Equipment for Screening?

Currently, the following are being used by mail screeners:

1. Hand Held Sensors
2. Automatic Sensors
3. X-ray Machine
4. Canine Teams  -with care, dogs can become sickened and handlers are carrying proper canine Naloxone kits in case of danger.  (More information at the end of the CDC page.)

How Can We Ensure Protection?

Unfortunately, since this threat is so new, there are not yet federal or private guidelines developed and proven. In fact, this past October, the U.S. Congress sent a letter to the USPS requesting a USPS audit to examine how it is protecting its workforce from the risks of illegally shipped opioids.

You need to know what is coming through your doors. Parcels that are illegal or endangering employees are compromising your facilities and reputation Relying on the USPS inspection of parcels is not protecting you.

1. Appoint a mail center security coordinator and an alternate to be responsible for your screening plan, your employee protection plan and to ensure compliance.
2. Establish lines of communication between the mail center security coordinator, management, and the security office.
3. Screen all mail and packages when they first arrive at your mailroom for sorting.
4. Staff who sort mail by hand should perform the screening, as they are the ones most likely to notice a suspicious item.
5. Prominently display a list of suspicious letter and package indicators in your mailroom and provide a copy of the list to all staff to ensure they’re familiar with it.

Basic steps for Synthetic Opioid Mailroom Safety include:

1. Provide and train employees to wear the correct protective equipment
2. Put a plan in writing
3. Install correct sensor equipment
4. Train employees on proper screening procedures
5. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com